Letters: A very British coup

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Africans look with envy on the British way of staging a coup

Sir: While the opposing Blair and Brown camps have been trading insults this past week, many Africans in the UK and elsewhere have been dying with envy at the "civilised" way their former colonial rulers manage coup plots. They simply wrote and sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to step down, and then simply resign their government posts while the ringleader prepares to take over. How wonderful!

With weak state institutions, and with no other way of removing unwanted leaders, Africans with political ambition are driven to take the ultimate risk, staging an armed rebellion and shooting the incumbent out of the state house. A successful or failed coup attempt is followed by a prolonged period of witch-hunting, arrests and the executions of anyone who in any way associated with the opposite side, leading to the death of their immediate families, cousins, clan members, tribe and business associates. The result is either another one-man rule or a civil war, famine and an exodus of asylum seekers pouring through the UK borders.

If and when Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister and if he is serious about ending the vicious cycle of poverty, civil war, famine, diseases and refugee exodus in Africa, he should abandon Mr Blair's rhetoric about stabilising the continent through rock music-assisted debt reduction efforts. Instead, he should focus on building independent state institutions, which would effectively manage and direct any foreign or locally generated resources to health, education, food production and clean water.



The Palestinian right to exist

Sir: No, Israel does not have gas chambers to destroy Palestinians (Letters, 12 September). It has more "civilised" means.

Israel came into being through the theft of Palestinian land and it continues to grow by the same means. Ethnic cleansing through state and settler terrorism, annexation of fertile land, appropriation of water resources, imprisonment without trial, daily humiliations, closing of access and egress, economic warfare, collective punishments, political assassinations, wholly disproportionate responses to acts of resistance and so on.

All this is just as the Nazis did it when they stole Jewish property, imprisoned Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and stripped them of all dignity and humanity. All just a prelude then to mass extermination. In the case of the Palestinians, of course, there will be no gas chambers: their lives are simply to be made intolerable in the vast open prisons of Gaza and the West Bank Bantustans. They are to be starved and crushed into submission as cheap and compliant labour - or into emigration.

The massive illegal Jewish settlement of the Jordan valley has only one purpose - to create "facts on the ground" that lead inexorably to annexation. The "two-state" solution is now to be nothing more than mimicry of South Africa's apartheid "homelands" or native American reservations.

So, does Israel have a "right to exist"? For every right there is a matching duty. So let the question be put another way: is there a duty on Palestinians to surrender their land so that Jews born in New York or London can live on it, while they themselves are refused the right to return? I would suggest not.



Sir: It is a shame that, at a time when there appears to be a glimmer of hope with a possible meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, The Independent focused on such negativity and in such a one-sided manner ("A people betrayed by the world", 8 September).

Israel withdrew from the whole of Gaza last summer. It was a bold and brave step that aimed to move the peace process forward. Rather than seizing the opportunity to rebuild their economy and society, the Palestinians in return increased missile attacks from Gaza, voted in a terrorist organisation that refuses to accept Israel's right to exist, and crossed the border into sovereign Israeli territory, killed Israeli soldiers and captured Corporal Shalit and took him to Gaza. These are the events that have helped to plunge the territory into despair.

Israel does not want to be back in Gaza but it has been forced to return by the antics of a terrorist organisation. The international community requires that Hamas recognises Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and abides by previous agreements. Hamas needs to realise that with power comes responsibility.



Room for all under the Big Top

Sir: The Circus Space is delighted to hear that Gerry Cottle is setting up a circus school (article, 7 September) giving youngsters three months of intense training, because we are confident that many with this foundation will subsequently apply to our degree course.

They need not be alarmed if they are not middle class; only 40 per cent of our present students benefit from the financial support of their families. They will not get in if they are scared of hard work because our students are required to put in 40 hours a week of physical and intellectual effort. But they will acquire skills allowing them to work professionally in the area they wish to.

We have run courses for 10 years and over more than 70 per cent of our graduates are performing professionally today, from Miss Behave, Guinness world record-holder for sword-swallowing (from our first course) to Jack Horner swinging through the air in the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka, Japan (from our latest course). As usual, graduates have been touring with UK tented shows this summer, Gifford's Circus, Circus Starr and Nofitstate Circus.

As for "the divide between those making a commercial living and sponsored circus schools that aren't", the Circus Space gets only 16 per cent of its income from the Arts Council, and works hard to earn more than £1m a year from activities, including classes and corporate workshops, which, because we are a charity, all gets reinvested in circus.







Better off - and quicker - by bike

Sir: In his article "Cyclists don't own the road" (5 September), Sean O'Grady claims that "No bike can beat a car, even in heavy traffic" that cyclists are "very, very vulnerable" and that "you're worse off by bike".

All of these statements are wrong. Allow me to put the record straight. On average, a four-mile journey in central London takes 81 per cent longer by car than by bike. You are more likely to be killed in a mile of walking than a mile of cycling. In terms of overall life expectancy, the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks, by a factor of 20:1, according to one estimate. People who regularly cycle to work have a 29 per cent lower mortality rate than those who commute in other ways. Cycling increases your life expectancy; it is physical inactivity, obesity and heart disease which shorten it.

I would not deny there are some foul-mouthed and aggressive cyclists, just as there are foul-mouthed and aggressive drivers, who are far more likely to kill or seriously injure other road users. O'Grady's abusive stereotyping merely increases hostility and aggression on our roads. His attacks would be a criminal offence if launched against virtually any other group in society.

The Independent campaigns passionately on climate change. Cutting car use by switching to cycling and other "green" transport is perhaps the most important contribution an individual can make to tackling the world's greatest challenge. Taking up cycling is fun, fast, flexible, free (well, almost) and keeps you fit. It is time to encourage it, not scorn it.



Sir: Sean O'Grady's diatribe against cyclists made me laugh and laugh (Motoring, 5 September). Where does he get his information about "No bike can beat a car, even in heavy traffic"? Cycle courier firms wouldn't exist if this were true. As an enthusiastic motorist, motorcyclist and cyclist I also know, through years of London travel, that it isn't .



Cricket gets into a state

Sir: After watching Abdul Razzaq's innings last Friday, and the ball tampering which he indulged in by hitting it so frequently into the concrete of stands and other non-playing areas, can anyone doubt the nonsense of preoccupation with the "state of the ball". The ICC could be much more realistic if it removed reference to the state of the ball from the Laws.

I played club cricket for 55 years, much of it as an opening batsman. My objective was to hit the ball off the square, no matter what state it was in. I do not recall ever being interested to look at "the state of the ball". If the bowler thought he had some advantage by using an imperfect ball, it did not worry me.



Holding up an aircraft with a violin

Sir: I share the frustration of the conductor Mark Elder with current airport security. The measures are damaging UK business as many other European airports and airlines have no such restraints on hand baggage. They are a folly.

As a pilot with a UK airline I agree with him that chances of holding up an aircraft with a violin are small. About as small as my damaging the aircraft with a tube of toothpaste, which the Department of Transport deems possible and hence bans me from carrying one. Until someone realises that security is as effective as its weakest link we will continue to be subjected to measures that serve only to cover the backs of those in positions of responsibility and do little to protect our freedom and economic success.



Endangered rhinos face Chinese threat

Sir: The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) (report, 9 September) has long been known in eastern Sabah (one of the two states of Malaysian Borneo, the other being Sarawak), where strenuous efforts have been made to conserve the species, They also occur in parts of Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan). They were thought to be extinct in Sarawak from the 1950s until 1986, when I confirmed that a small population survived in a remote valley in the northern interior.

The species is critically endangered throughout its range in Borneo and Sumatra, the chief problem being hunting to supply body parts for Chinese traditional medicines. The growth of China's economy is likely to apply devastating pressure to this and hundreds of other wild species that are in demand for similar reasons, ranging from seahorses to tigers. Conservation agencies and NGOs such as SOS Rhino should receive all our support in trying to reduce these threats.



When Scotland was Welsh

Sir: Perhaps Brian Adams MSP, who objected to the display in Scotland of a contractor's sign in Welsh, should look again at his history (John Walsh, 9 September). Early Welsh was spoken over a wide area of what later became Scotland well before the Scots arrived.

Indeed, it is probable that Calgacus's riposte to the Roman invaders - "They create a desert and call it peace" - was delivered in Brythonic Celtic/Welsh. Certainly the earliest surviving Welsh poem was composed in or near Edinburgh. Perhaps we should extend our missionary work for the Welsh language to all our old stamping grounds.



Wrong drop

Sir: It was Aeschylus, not Aesop, who was said to have been killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle (Match Point, 12 September). Aesop was hurled over a cliff by the Delphians after he had mocked them.



Cooper enigma

Sir: He's a conundrum that Cooper Brown, isn't he (letter, 9 September)? If he is real, The Independent would surely never employ him for his illiberal, lowest-common-denominator, crassly-expressed imbecility. But if he is fake, The Independent could still never employ him because he has created an almost racist pastiche of unthinking, uncouth, parochial America, something the open-minded, multicultural, free-thinking Indy could never condone. So what is he? Come on, put us out of our misery.



Rule of lawyers

Sir: Your article detailing the personality type of lawyers ("Stress in the City", 9 August) leads me to wonder if there are too many lawyers in politics. The win/lose training and the "perfectionist, obsessive, wanting to succeed, wanting quick results, putting a lot of pressure on themselves, getting stressed and finding a quick fix in alcohol" does not lead to a long-term, well thought-out attempt to find a win/win solution. Perhaps if we had more historians, philosophers and mediators in Parliament we'd have a more peaceful world.



Mystery measurement

Sir: I wonder what potential buyers expect to learn from "running their slide rules over Aston Martin" ("Ford looks for buyers for Aston Martin", 1 September). A slide rule is an instrument of calculation, not measurement, so it's difficult to see how they could discover anything meaningful. (Essentially, it is used to multiply by adding together the logarithms of numbers. It was the primary means of calculation used by engineers till sophisticated electronic calculators.) Nor would it help to run a slide rule over the company's accounts, as you can't perform addition on one.



Marmite revolt

Sir: The correspondence about Marmite takes me back to summer 1959. A coachload of boarding-school girls is crossing the causeway from Hayling Island after a day's outing to the beach. Halfway across, when the accompaying nuns aren't looking, small packets fly out of the windows into the sea. Marmite sandwiches, too awful even for hungry teenagers. A revolt justified by subsequent tastings. Salt-on-toast anyone?